GENEVA, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- The year 2020 was one of the three warmest on record and rivaled 2016 for the top spot, but the naturally occurring cooling climate phenomenon La Nina put a brake on the heat at the very end of the year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday.
Latest WMO data show that 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record in a persistent long-term climate change trend. The warmest six years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three.
The differences in average global temperatures among the three warmest years are indistinguishably small. The average global temperature in 2020 was about 14.9 degrees Celsius, or 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level of 1850-1900.
"The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Nina event, which has a temporary cooling effect," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Nino warming events on record."
The La Nina event, which began in late 2020, is expected to continue into early to mid-2021. La Nina and El Nino effects on average global temperature are typically strongest in the second year of the event.
As in previous years, there were significant socio-economic impacts in 2020. For instance, the U.S. reported disasters costing a record 22 billion U.S. dollars in 2020, which was the nation's fifth warmest year on record.
According to Taalas, the temperature ranking of individual years represents only a snapshot of a much longer-term trend. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one. Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere remain at record levels and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide, the most important gas, commits the planet to future warming.
"We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of three to five degrees Celsius this century," warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere."
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